Picture this… It’s Friday night and you’re at a pet circus. (And OK. What the hell are you, what am I, doing at a pet circus?) The theater is packed, hundreds of little children, screaming. The lights dim. More screams. Then we see a four story cardboard building. It’s on fire. No, surely not. But yes, smoke billows from the windows. We hear a sound track of barking dogs and meowing cats. The audience whimpers. What the fuck? Pets trapped in a burning building? How sick is this? But hey, we’re in Brighton Beach. And this is a RUSSIAN pet circus. So, of course, there are pets trapped in a burning building. A tiny red fire engine roars to the rescue. Bells ringing. Cats stand, drunkenly, on two legs, carrying pails of water. Two of them attempt to climb a ladder and fail. We gasp. Eventually, with the help of their trainer, a man who looks like a geriatric, alcoholic, Daniel Craig, the fire is put out.
Oh how I love Brighton Beach. Land of tortuously teased, blown out, bottle blondes in spiky heels; of thug-like men in shiny suits and the original babushkas, grandmothers wrapped in the carcasses of short-haired mink and squirrel. Smiling, always smiling. This is not a group with much grace or style. But there is canniness, a great love of small children and a sense or respect for occasion. I’m sure that the audience still dresses not just for Church but perhaps even for trips to the airport. Stuck in its own twilight zone; in a time warp, Brighton Beach is all that is left in the world of Old Russia. Pre oligarch, pre Putin and designer logos, it is the Russia that was once ruled by a single logo: the hammer and sickle. Obviously, this is a demented sort of nostalgia. No one misses Communism, except perhaps, for the millions who are pensionless, hungry, and broke. The audience around me are immigrants, all of whom fled the old Russia. But there is something about the tackiness; the fact that the show is so imperfect and even wildly inappropriate, that appeals to me. Unlike extravagant, multi million dollar spectacles like Cirque de Soleil , spectacles that are now almost boring, precisely because they are so flawless and sanitized, there is an intimacy to the shows here in Brighton Beach. It is an intimacy that, despite its casual cruelty to animals and the weary, sad face of the trainer, seems utterly human.
When we discreetly sneak out of the theater for dinner nearby, I remember my favorite scene in Slava, The Snow Show. (Slava is Russia’s most famous clown.) Slava enters the stage dragging a rope. There is a noose around his neck. He’s tired. As he slowly, ever so slowly, walks towards the other side of the stage, he continues to look back, pulling and dragging on this endless piece of rope. He looks out at the audience. He shrugs. He goes back to work., Then, suddenly, we see what’s at the other end. It’s another clown. With a noose around his neck. I guffaw. I laugh so hard, I’m crying. The rest of the audience, mostly American, is not laughing. They sit there, stunned and silent, wondering what they missed. Namely, the point. Two suicidal clowns, unable to even kill themselves because they share the same piece of rope. I thought it was brilliant. The scene was cut after that first performance on opening night.
“I like a man whose life has been anything but a smooth trip,” says the writer, James Salter. “Storms have battered them. They’ve lain, somehow, for months, becalmed. There is a residue even if they fail. They have grand chords.”
“Nothing stands still and remains as it is…”
No idea why I’m sitting here this morning, thinking about snow. It’s spring. But there I was, standing on top of the steepest, most lethal, sledding hill I’d ever seen. This was in Russia. The landscape below looked like a Bruegel painting with a miniature snow covered lake and tiny ant-size figures, moving about in bright, primal colors. Kids thrust themselves off the precipice and flew down the hill, lost in war whoops of sheer terror and joy.
“I’m going,” I, suddenly, muttered to myself. I’m going down that hill if kills me.” (Keep in mind here that I am the woman who got so sick on the ride BodyWars at Disneyland, I had to be escorted from my seat and out of the theater by security officers.) Tucking my pants into a pair of cozy felt boots (Boots so warm, I’m convinced they helped Russia defeat the Germans in WWII,), I grab a sled, sit down like a guru, wrap the rope around my fingers, and close my eyes.
“Across the lake,” says my Russian friend, P., like a general, goading on his troops. He’s pointing to what looks like fucking Latvia, it is so far away. “And no brakes!”
He gives me a running push. And I’m off. Eyes squeezed shut, heart in throat, back as stiff as a tree. I’m barreling down the slope so fast, I can’t close my mouth. “I’m going to die. I’m going to die,” I’m thinking, sneaking a peak at the giant bump ahead, that finally, shoots me over the last hill and onto the ice. My grin is frozen. My face hurts. But I’ve made it.
The struggle up the hill is murderous, feet sinking in deep, cold snow, dragging the sled, gasping for breath. But when I arrive at the top, my kids are cheering and the Russians are laughing. “You are a fighter,” P. says, lifting me up off the ground when he hugs me. “I always knew you were a fighter.” P. is the only man who has ever picked me off the ground when he hugs me. But this is the greatest, most touching compliment, I have ever received from P. Because it is he who is the real fighter.
Anyway, the sledding, no, the hill, must be some kind of dumb metaphor. I am obsessed with fucking metaphors. Maybe I’m thinking of it because I am furious at myself for all this standing still. Or because I wish to hell the hill that lies ahead of me was just a tiny bit smaller. I’ve never mastered the art of taking life one step at a time. I like to leap, even if means I lose my footing. What’s missing are those child-like whoops of terror and joy. Enough of THIS. I’m off to the dentist.
April was my birthday month. In yet another bizarre, possibly desperate move, to reinvent myself, I bought a ticket for the New York Post Page Six tour bus. R. recently suggested I work as an official guide. “It would be great practice for your stand up/one woman show,” he said.. I thought it was hilarious. A brilliant idea. I’ve been crazy about Page Six, not to mention Post headlines, for twenty five years. (The rest of the paper, of course, is a nightmare.) Which might explain why I was the only customer. I wasn’t totally alone. There was also a hunched over, elderly, thin haired man and three young, Post photographers. “We’re here to promote the tour,” one of them said.
“Good luck with that!’ I thought as they began snapping pics of everything but the empty bus.
It was not an auspicious start. In fact, I was ready to pay to get OFF the bus (which is saying something considering it cost 49 bucks to get on) when we turned left from 7th Avenue onto 55th street and the elderly, thin-haired man (my guide) reached for an inhaler. Yes, an inhaler. “This,” he gasped, pointing feebly at a building, ” is home to, gasp, the most expens (deep breath) ive apartment in Manhattan.”
Oh My God, I muttered. Please don’t tell me I have 2 hours ahead, watching this poor man gasp and inhale while sitting on the top of a windy, practically empty, fucking tour bus on my birthday. But yes, this is precisely what lay ahead of me. When we hit Fifth and he signaled me to move to the seat directly behind him, I probably should have just jumped. “It’s only the, gasp, two of us.” He smiled. “Right, i said. “How intimate.”
What followed was a half- hearted, listless litany of very old headlines (Ie Headless Woman in Topless Bar) and truly ancient gossip re Ivana Trump (Ivana who?What was she? Like three, four, lives/wives ago for Donald?) When we reached 23rd St, I couldn’t bear to watch the guy suffer, anymore. So I stood up and started telling/sharing my own stories about life and gossip in Greenwich Village. They were mostly stories about money. Duh. My 1 million dollar parking space, the 33 million dollar fully furnished, uninhabited townhouse which is owned by a former hedge funder who actually lives in an apartment across the street, etcetc. The photogs ate it up. Some of it was true, some of it I made up on the spot. I’m good at that, making things up.
But sure as hell not as good as TJ and Dave, two wonders of the long form improv world. Their show, a one hour, one act play at the Barrow Theater, is like watching an Olympics for brainiacs . The one liners at the end of each scene come as fast and furious, as faultlessly on the mark, as those breathtaking backflips in Monday’s video. Their feats of mental derring do and wit defy not just the imagination but death itself. Because to do this for sixty uninterrupted minutes, to work without a net, puts you at the mercy of the merciless. That being, an audience. These men,however, had us at: Trust Us, This is all Made-up. (Their version of hello.) Oh. wait. My son also treated me to Moth.
The line to get into this short (‘Im talking very short) story telling event in Soho meandered all the way to the end of the block. So, the first thrill for me, was skipping the line and walking straight to my seat. How I love when that happens. The second was listening to 5 enthusiastic amateurs condense a real life mystery into ten minutes, including punch line. All before a jury of their peers. Even if some of them faltered, stuttered and/or lost their train of thought, you had to love them just for getting up there; for their bravado
Speaking of which…. Bravado, I mean. How bout a one woman show about working the wilds of Alaska as a stripper? Naked in Alaska was the title. It wasn’t wasn’t just the extraordinary story that left me short of breath (and what is it about me and fucking breathlessness in this post?) it was the pole dancing. HOLY GOD! I was mesmerized. The woman practically did one handed back flips. It was a sublime final act in my week or two, living the lives of others. Now back to studying for my exam as an official tour guide. Just kidding. I discovered, shortly after my tour, that becoming a guide ain’t exactly easy. There are three volumes of New York history to read and a 400 question test.
”What were you thinking, Mom?” said my son. “Were you just gonna get up there with a mic and make it up?”
“Yup,” I said. “That’s exactly what I was gonna do. Tourists wouldn’t know the difference. And at least, it would be interesting.”
Apple picking. Cop slang for stealing an iPhone
Cast and blast. The term a Republican friend/banker used to describe a week of fishing and hunting with clients.
“One does not find solitude, one creates it,” says Marguerite Duras in her succinct, albeit solemn, essay on writing. “Solitude,” she adds,”is the thing without which one does nothing.” On Sunday, I abandoned a gloriously sunny afternoon for the darkness of a movie theater on 12th St. They were showing, Herman’s House, a documentary about convicted killer, Herman Wallace—a man who has spent 40 of his 72 years alone in a windowless, 6 foot by 9 foot prison cell. The dungeon, they call it out at Angola.
In 2001, Herman begins a relationship via letter and telephone with Jacki Summell, a young, highly strung, visual artist from Long Island. “The only way out of prison,” she tells her distant new friend, “is to dream.” What Herman dreams of is a house. Over the next several years, he and Jacki continue to communicate/collaborate via snail and telephone, eventually bringing that dream house to life—virtually and then with a wooden model, complete with swimming pool, garden, and hot tub. (A hot tub that measures exactly 6 ft. by 9 ft.) Unlike Herman who never leaves his cell, the house and the artist travel to galleries all over the world.
I rarely have a problem with solitude. I revel in it. For me, solitude is a luxury. But I also know that there are times when the joy and the luxury of solitude, somehow, slip into the quiet anguish of isolation. I know this because I have spent too much time recently, alone and unoccupied.
I like that word: unoccupied. It implies vacancy. Which is how I feel when I am isolated. Vacant. Spiritless. I try and write my way out of it. The same way others go for a jog or a swim. Ferociously, gracefully, awkwardly… It doesn’t matter how I do it. The act of doing it, the effort, consoles me. Yesterday, I did a word count on my old blog. The blog that once had the same population as the island of Malta. Over a three year period, I wrote 172, 342 words. That’s 574 pages at 300 words per page. Or the equivalent of THREE books. Within that time, I also wrote my first novel. But I’ve strayed seriously ‘off message’ here.
Solitude versus isolation. “Hold your head up and keep moving,” Herman tells his young friend after yet another appeal for his release from solitary confinement is denied and she weeps on the telephone. What astonished me was the bizarre reversal of roles. It should have been Jacki not Herman speaking those words of comfort and reassurance. But it seems that words (versus Jesus) are Herman’s salvation. Although alone, he has been far from unoccupied. He reads. I sensed such pride and power in his casual use of very big words—words like conducive, perfunctory, incumbent… I assume that books are the only company Herman keeps. They are not just his window, his view of the outside world, but a way to connect with other humans. As such, they also give him dignity, perhaps even the hope that one day he will be free to go out and see the house he built with Jacki. In the meantime, I will think of Herman in those moments when I despair; when words elude me and I dare to whine/complain about isolation.
Keep you mouth SHUT! These were R.’s last words to me before falling asleep on Saturday night. This, after I momentarily lost my senses at a tiny Greenwich Village Theater called Rattlestick. We were there to see Buyer and Cellar, a one man show/satire about Barbra Streisand. Apparently, the diva has built her own private mall in her basement to house a lifetime’s worth of compulsive collecting. The actor plays a sales assistant in the mall. I laughed out loud when I bought the tickets.
Unfortunately, that was my last laugh. I spent most of the brilliant performance in a state of such heightened anxiety, my palms were sweating. Because from the second the guy next to me sat down and shoved a black nylon backpack (Ohoh! you’re thinking) under the seat in front of me, I knew he was… That’s right. A jihadist. Ludicrous. Totally unhinged. I mean, what the fuck is a jihadist doing at a sold-out, one man show about Barbra Streisand? What jihadist has even HEARD of Barbra Streisand? But logic has nothing to do with panic attacks. I elbowed R and nodded to the left. The guy was now removing his sweatshirt. R. just closed his eyes and shook his head.
It wasn’t racial profiling. Not exactly. It was an accumulation of small, insignificant details. Like the backpack. And the sweatshirt. It had a green (the color of Islam) and black triangle on it with the letters A.S.A.
Arab Spring in America, I thought. (Also Autism Society of America, Amateur Softball Association, Association of Siamese Architects, and Aperture Switching Assembly.) He was young, alone, and dark-skinned. He couldn’t speak English.
How long it is? he asked me.
90 minutes, I replied. At which point he took off his shoes (OMG—he’s taking off his shoes!, I shrieked to myself) and punched something into his cellphone.
A timer, I thought.
He then stuffed the phone into the backpack and fell asleep. Which certainly would have reassured most people. Not me, of course.
How many soon-to-be martyrs fall asleep before blowing themselves up? R asked during dinner.
A lot, I said. They give them tranquillizers to calm their nerves.
When the guy finally woke up, he couldn’t stop fidgeting. And he kept fiddling with the fucking backpack. It was when he pulled out the cellphone, again, and his face lit up with that spooky blue glow, that the terror inside broke loose and I bolted. “I’m outta here,” I whispered to R. You’re out of your mind, he whispered back.
Obviously. But what the hell possessed me? How could I possibly have made such a wild and unforgivably dangerous leap? My own so-called ‘accumulation of small, insignificant details’, details that led to such a baseless and deranged assumption was something I would ordinarily associate with ignorance and bigotry. Or madness. Precisely the same kind of ignorance, bigotry and madness that triggers riots and ‘inspires’ murder. I have never believed that Muslims are killers. Some Muslims are killers. Like some Catholics and some Protestants and some Americans. But there I was, abruptly stumbling out of a packed theater, 20 minutes before what I later heard was a standing ovation.
any/all references to fucking SPRING BREAKERS on Tumblr
Roman also has a frickin’ missile defense system onboard that will alert he and his crew of 70 former SAS soldiers that there be pirates in these waters. Personally, I think the pirates are on land but hey…. What do I know?
This from Gizmodo
house slogan at Google